We’re back with another look at another inspiration of ours: freelance photographer Bev Davies.
Bev is a long time music-based photographer who spent much of her career in Vancouver, B.C. where she still resides.
Her mostly black and white photography encapsulates exactly what it’s like to be a part of a live show, fully capturing the feeling and intrigue of those who are performing, which is not an easy task in low light and with a manual focus… All during a time when she was likely one of a handful of people who were able to take a picture.
She’s still out there now, although these days she’s surrounded by smart-phonetographers at every show. Here’s a look at some selected imagery along with an interview, all of which we’re thrilled to share.
Jello Biafra, Dead Kennedys
Joe Strummer, The Clash
Ron Reyes, Black Flag
Yes I was born in Ontario, Canada.
How’d you end up in Vancouver?
I came out to Vancouver in 1968 for art school and just stayed. 1968 was an interesting year to have come out here because when I was in Toronto in the spring I saw The Doors, they were on tour and so was Jimi Hendrix. So I saw both of them in Toronto and then when I came out here (Vancouver) they were playing again by the end of the summer! So if I decided to come the year before or after, that wouldn’t have happened!
So you came out for art school, did you come out to do photography specifically?
I didn’t photograph bands at that point. I went back and forth for a couple years, but when I decided to go back to school I was specializing in etching and printmaking, a four-year course at the time. It was fun, I think everyone that really wants to go to art school should be able to. That way when they’re in a mood, someone will say “oh leave him or her alone, they went to art school…” That buys you an excuse for an unpleasant temperament. (laughs)
Any way I went back because by then I had cameras and wanted to set up my own dark room. When I was there taking etching we were the first class to be given the opportunity to sensitize the plates with actual photographic images, up until that point the only people who had access to that was the Canadian Mint, for the process of making money. Kodak brought the technology out to our school with hopes of us experimenting with it, so I got to be involved in that at the beginning, and I wanted to get more into photography after that experience. I went back to school in the summertime and I really wanted to learn how to set up a darkroom. the school had very expensive enlargers and tools that really wouldn’t translate to a home setup unless you know you were a millionaire or something. I still have that equipment although I don’t use it too often anymore.
Is it set up?
No but I could have it set up in the same amount of time as we’ve been talking! I actually have to start on a project soon which involves trading with another photographer, he won’t accept them unless I’ve printed them that way, so I’m going to do it!
Cool! So you got a serious camera for yourself after that?
Oh I had so many cameras by that point. But this was obviously pre digital, so in those days there weren’t really good point and shoot cameras. There wasn’t anything other then single-lens reflex that would take a decent picture. Well save polaroid and the instant stuff was interesting, people were doing interesting stuff with those. Otherwise you either had the expensive camera or you had nothing. Or a little Brownie Hawkeye… (Laughs)
One of our photographers still uses an Olympus 35mm point and shoot but that thing came out way later, in the 90s i think.
Yea, I mean there were interesting other options with different films, like 620 or stuff like that but I preferred the 35mm though. As the years went by we started to see better little cameras like that. Now the digital age is there is just so many levels of camera out there, like the iPhone you know?.. Decent, decent pictures! You might not want to blow them up to the size of a house but they’re pretty good. We’re talking technical crap! I just prefer to point and shoot is what I’m getting at.
Alright so why did you start taking photos of bands? You were obviously going to enjoy the shows at first but when did you start becoming “On Duty” at them?
Well I was backstage a different Stones concert in about 1965 and I had a camera with me. I went because the opening band, friends of mine, had broken a drumhead and they phoned me to come down and bring a replacement, which ended up taking all afternoon. So I was there and when the Stones came out to go on stage, I just naturally followed them up (Laughs). I didn’t take any photos at that point, I was overwhelmed, peoples flash bulbs firing off everywhere in the audience, I just stood there going “wow this is amazing.” I did get to take some pictures backstage. And you know I always wanted to do that kind of stuff but that was my dads camera. I did take it back to him with no much broken on it, maybe a dented thing on it which he chose to ignore because it didn’t affect anything. My lifestyle was such that I couldn’t hold onto a camera it would end up to be the one most valuable thing that i owned regardless of how expensive it was, the most valuable.
So then I went to punk rock stuff, I went and saw DOA, I remember the date the 24th of March 1979 I went to their concert and sat there near the back with my friends that took me. I went to myself “hot damn, this is what i want to photograph”. I went to the next show they played and just started talking pictures, i would go home and develop the film and print it, then next time i went to their concert I’d take the prints and give them away to people in the prints I saw and the to bands. I read somewhere something that said I used to go sell the prints, never thought of doing that! People wouldn’t have bought them anyway… I just gave them away to whoever was in the pictures. Pictures for money, what a concept!
Did it just inflate from there? you just kept coming back to that kind of sho when you’d see someone was in town?
Yea well there was such a scene going on in Vancouver at the time with the Subhumans, DOA, others who’d come up, the Avengers from CA, with Brad who’d just passed away but he was the guitarist and he was from here, so it was a big event so it was a big event when he came back, “whoo our Brad is here”. The Dils used to come up a lot, they did some recording here with Jerry Baird. I went down to CA to SF for a festival with lots of bands and photographed for Damaged magazines and got in to whatever I wanted to go to.
Were you working professionally at that point?
No… If money exchanging is what you call a professional photographer, then no…
Yes that what’s I meant.
I don’t think Damaged paid anybody for anything. I worked at the Straight for a long time and they did pay a small amount of money for each picture that went in, the majority of the money wet to actually print the paper. Anything they could get their hands on went to the printer. Get the product out!
I don’t think I’ve ever actually worked (as a photopgrapher) I’ve finally been able to get comfortable the last few years when people would ask “who are you shooting for?” I just say “myself!”. Or “the band!” you know (laughs). But now it’s so tight, it really, really is tight. It went through a time where it got real loose, and then, I mean I can’t shoot like Iron maiden I’m sorry. I madly love Iron maiden but I can’t shoot their concert, I just don’t have the press contacts or even the equipment to shoot big huge venues really.
I know Duff McCagen was back in town, he came with Velvet Revolver? He gave me a pass and said “here I’ll take you to this room here and you just tell the guy what you need for a pass, “giver her whatever she wants and show her back to the dressing room after”.
I’ve heard good things about him.
Yea he used to come up way back also.
OK, best advice or lesson learned while shooting?
Well I had to stop drinking… Yea I mean, I was raising a kid and was living in a relationship and all that was fine and when I started going to these punk gigs everybody was drinking. I thought “oh this is cool” so I drank a bit, and I remember once thinking “I don’t even know where my camera case is right now!” I had friends i was with that would say “oh we have your case over here we kept it”. I thought oh well i have to stop doing that. I had to keep my head about me to be able to do the photography… Those were the days where you’d have to manually focus so that was a good reason not to drink. The manual focus was an exact science…
That’s good advice!
Yea! If I were to give advice now it’d just be kind, take the ego and put it in your back pocket, don’t bother bringing it to the gig if you can possibly do that…
How about top shows you’ve been to, behind the lens or not.
The Stones in ’65.
Cool, that would’ve been with Brian Jones right?
Yea, I have Brian Jones’ autograph in a book. I got it the next day at the hotel because I was taken there with I friend i lived with Glen Bell, he played for The Ugly Ducklings who eventually opened for them the next time. At that time, in ’65 they played only Stones songs, they wrote their own stuff eventually. But at that time Glen looked exactly like Brian Jones, he lived in the same house that I lived in. He came to me one timed said “the fan club president is going to take me to the hotel after the Stones concert so I can meet Brian Jones”. I said “she’s taking us!”. He said “no, no really she’s taking me” I said “you’re not going without me! you tell her that I want to go“. So she agreed and I went with him. They looked so much alike, I wish I’d taken a picture of them standing together. Glen knew he looked like Brian jones, not the other way around obviously. But I got Brian’s autograph at the time, just in a book. And I’m giving that to Anton Newcombe!
Yea he said he wanted it. My son’s going to give it to him when I’m gone.
Yea he said he wanted it, I said you can after I’m gone. He said well who would know that? I said I’ll put a note on it right now and then it’ll go to you.
Ok other top shows besides the Stones in ’65?
Ah. I don’t know. name some shows!
OK maybe the show you got some of the best photos from.
Ah, the US festival in San Bernardino. Great stuff there. Great bands, it was the second year, in 1983. The Clash headlined the Friday night. The Clash of course, the only band that mattered! I don’t know, I enjoy being at the concerts, I don’t think photography necessarily stops enjoying the concert, it just gives me a different way of listening and looking. I have difficulty at concerts where I can’t photograph. I don’t know where to stand, I don’t know what to do with myself.
Where were you when you shot that Beefheart portrait?
That was at a hotel. The one where he’s sitting down. that was probably 1980. I would think.
That day that I was supposed to photograph Captain Beefheart, he was playing that night at the Commodore, I think he played the night before too, probably a Saturday. But that day I had a horrible nosebleed so I was at home trying to get rid of it and it was getting closer and closer to the time that I was supposed to be there to take photographs at the hotel where he’d be doing interviews or whatever. The nosebleed was not going away, so I decided that I would have my friend just drive me there and just do it, you know. Just go take the photographs even though I had this nosebleed. So when I went in I apologized for having a nosebleed but that I had decided to come anyway (laughs). Then I went to the concert that night and I was sitting and still had a nosebleed, and then he came on the stage I breathed and the nosebleed was gone. I thought “wow thats great”, so I went up and photographed him on stage. After, his road manager Paul Young who we used to call easy teeth because he could smile so easily and show his teeth, he said to me how was your nosebleed, I said oh it went away, he said when did it go away, I said oh it went away just as he went on stage. He said amazing! The last thing he said to me before he went on stage was “I hope that women’s nosebleed had ended.” and it did! At that very moment!
Ha well thanks Captain!
Yes! Otherwise I’d be very anemic by now (laughs). We can thank Captain Beefheart for my existence, I didn’t bleed to death through the nose..
Ha, well you’re still going to shows at much as you can?
Yep, Levitation tonight! †£